Sentiers No.39

Buckminster. Bias. AI Debating. Quickstarter. Bezos. Media and censorship.

As you read this I am on vacation. As such, for once, I have enforced a hard deadline on myself and closed up shop before dinner/supper Friday. That has meant cutting reading and writing short a bit, making this issue more succinct than usual. Next Sunday is definitely off, then if I do manage to spend some time catching up on reading during my time off, No.40 will be in your inboxes on July 8th, otherwise it might slip to July 15th. I hope you don’t mind.

One last admin note; I plan on getting back to writing longer comments on the more important articles, I’ve been relying on quotes too much. Do hit reply if you have thoughts on this.


These come highly recommended
Here are the pieces I had left in my planning folder when I closed shop, it’s very likely they would have made the cut. Enjoy.


What it’s like to watch an IBM AI successfully debate humans
As always in these kinds of demos, hard to tell how much is “AI” and how much is just good preparation by the dev team + lots of data being crunched quickly (vs something more like learning) but worth a read, the author brings a few interesting nuances to what’s going on.

That’s pretty impressive. It essentially created a freshman-level term paper kind of argument in just a couple of minutes when presented with a debating topic it had no specific preparation for. The system has “several hundred million articles” that it assumes are accurate in its data banks, which are about 100 areas of knowledge. When it gets a debate topic, it takes a couple of minutes to spelunk through them, decides what would make the best arguments in favor of the topic, and then creates a little speech describing those points.


Quickstarter
I love this, a Dogme 95 version of Kickstarter project creation.

Plan it in three months or less. Keep the campaign under 20 days. The funding goal should be under $1,000. Offer rewards under $50. Shoot the video in one day. No PR or media outreach (unless contacted). No paid ads on social media. No stretch goals. Include “Quickstarter” in your campaign name.


Jeff Bezos explains how his space company will save civilization
Three thoughts: That’s way more out there than Musk. He made me think of Nigel Sheldon in the Peter F. Hamilton books. And this “animal” vs “developed-world” states comparison is interesting.

So, in a natural state, where we’re animals, we’re only using a 100 Watts. In our actual developed-world state, we’re using 11,000 Watts. And it’s growing. For a century or more, it’s been compounding at a few percent a year—our energy usage as a civilization.


Media
Facebook and Google must do more to support Wikipedia
As an organization that “moves slow and builds things,” Wikipedia is an indispensable source and here Katherine Maher, Wikimedia’s Executive Director, makes the case that more of it’s financing should come from companies who have the “biggest monetary stake in the health of our shared digital networks.”

Like public parks and free museums, the internet was built as a common resource, on open standards, with an ambition to connect people and share knowledge. But like any commons, it was vulnerable to overuse, exploitation and commodification. If we want to reverse this trend and restore the internet to the public interest, we must act together.

++ Dear Journalists: Stop being loudspeakers for liars
Can’t say I’m holding much hope that the media heeds those words but it would be extraordinary if they did.

You need to face something squarely: You’re confronted with radical hacking of your own systems of operation. This requires radical rethinking of those systems.

++ Censorship disaster looms in Europe

As for the upload filters, here we’re looking at a further expansion of online platforms’ role as privatised law enforcement, and an acceleration of the internet’s slide towards being “a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users,” as web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, and other tech luminaries put it in a warning to the Parliament.

Also: EFF on Twitter: “Everyone needs to know just how wildly dangerous the European Union’s vote this week could be for the global Internet, and the undecided members of the European Parliament must consider the massive worldwide ramifications of their votes. (1/24)”

And: This Wednesday, an EU committee voted to break the Internet: this Sunday, Berliners take to the streets to say NO!


Cities
Surveillance and the City: Know When You’re Being Watched
Quick video with Ingrid Burrington showing us some of the visible surveillance equipment.

++ Risotto, robotics and virtual reality: how Canada created the world’s best libraries
I’m kind of astonished by this but… yeah us!

All three Canadian cities included – Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver – came in the top 10.

++ Suburbia reimagined: An afternoon in Houten, Netherlands
This is only a small suburb, yet exactly how cities should be.

As we biked through the middle of town, the loudest sounds were our conversations and birdsong in the trees that line the main bike path. For us Americans, it was a leap into a forgotten past of safety, peace and quiet in daily life — one that every suburban cul-de-sac is trying to recall, but which turns out to be impossible without the key step of making biking a fast and comfortable alternative to driving for in-town trips.


Milieu
Delhi’s air pollution is now so bad it is literally off the chart

Children are the most vulnerable: a 2015 study concluded about half Delhi’s 4.4m schoolchildren had stunted lung development and would never completely recover.

Where have all our insects gone?

They are “the little things that run the world” according to the distinguished Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson, who once observed: “If all humankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed 10,000 years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos.”


Learn more